Notes on "Ask Me Why" (AMW)

Notes on "Ask Me Why" (AMW)

KEY E Major


FORM Intro -> Verse (initial) -> Verse (variant#1) -> Bridge -> Verse (variant#2) -> Verse (initial) -> Verse (variant#2) -> Bridge -> Outro (verse variant#2, w/complete ending)


Style and Form

- This is just about the fussiest, most complicated form we've yet seen, with verse material that appears in three variations, each of which is tailored to suit a different purpose.

- The initial verse is typically "expository" in nature but has an harmonically open ending on V that is unsuitable for leading into the bridge. As a result, variant#1, though very similar to the initial verse, is critically ammended to link smoothly with the bridge that follows it.

- Variant#2 is a much abbreviated affair that merely alludes to the other verses rather than fully recapitulating them, and it itself reappears three times in the song, always slightly different in content and formal context. It creates the impression of being like a refrain, in part, because of the inclusion of the title phrase in its lyrics.

- All the phrases and sections of the song start off in the middle of the preceding measure. Compare this for example to "From Me To You" and "All My Loving"; also contrast it for example with PSILY and DYWTKAS.


- Key-wise, the song is solidly, almost completely in E Major though the verse contains a momentary leaning toward the relative minor key of c#.

- As with PSILY, we have a strong presence here of chord streams, though this time the chords are jazzy parallel sevenths, not just plain triads.

- The Major seventh chord on E (the I7) is one of those chords that has the coincidental sonority of two different triads superimposed; in this case, the I and iii. To the extent that both the I and iii are used so heavily throughout this song, I half suspect that the I7 was purposefully exploited here, analogous to the way in which added-sixth chord on I was used in DYWTKAS for its sounding like the I and vi combined.

- Note how this same I7 which was used to connote great tension in TAP feels so much more relaxed here because it is use in the midst of a chord stream of other sevenths, rather than appearing starkly head-on; indeed, context is all.


- The two most conspicuous surface features of the arrangement are the pseudo-Latin dance beat and the harmonized 'woah's sung in slow triplets.

- The backing vocal part for Paul and George is repeatedly cut off in mid-phrase leaving John exposed dramatically in the spotlight; in one such spot we hear his voice forced to cracking on the word "cry."

- Just the smallest sound of silence is effectively used throughout the song as a leitmotif. Virtually everywhere you find a phrase or section commencing with a pickup on beats 3 and 4 of a measure, there is a neat pause "on 'two'", for the beat preceding. If you want to play this song nicely, you have to mind such details.



- The intro is very short but within barely two measures it manages to set the mildly syncopated beat of the song in motion, establish the home key via a I-V-I progression, and set the stage for the entrance of the singers.

- The harmonic rhythm of the first measure is unusual for a Beatles song, with the first chord (I) being sustained for three beats, and the change to V occuring on beat four; this trick is carried on into the verse.

Verse (initial) - "I love you ..."

- The initial verse is thirteen measures, built out of three phrases. The first two of are even in length, but the final one is elongated:

          m.1      [beats: 1,2,3, 4]
    E7  f#7|g#7         |f#7      B7    |E              |-     E7  f#7|

E:  I   ii  iii          ii       V      I                     I   ii

          m.5      [beats: 1,2,3, 4]
           |g#7         |f#7      B7    |E              |G#            |

            iii          ii       V      I               V-of-vi

           |c#          |-          |A            |F#9          |B        |

            vi                       IV            V-of-V        V


- The dramatic thrust of this verse doesn't truly start building until near the end of the second phrase at which point the melody mounts steadily towards an ultimate falsetto climax at the very end. In the first appearance of this section, John melodically descends from the high g# in measure 12 to an f# in the final measure. When this section is repeated later, he ascends all the way to high B; this admittedly small change both represents an avoidance of foolish consistency *and* is an object lesson in how one should always hold back a little something extra for the next event.

- The harmony supports the climax in a number of ways: an eventually complete shift away from stepwise chord streams toward root progressions with a stronger feeling of transitive movement, the inclusion of a flirtation with the key of c#, a broadening of the harmonic rhythm, and the use of that intense 'V9' chord right before the peak.

- The ending on V smoothly motivates the continuation to the next verse. What's subtle is the way in which the climax itself is the more potent because of this harmonically open ending; compare with variant#1 below.

Verse (variant#1) - "Now you're mine ..."

- This first variant is thirteen measures long again, and the game plan is identical to that of the initial verse until the last three measures during which a number of important changes appear:

    |c#          |-          |a            |E            |E aug.   |

     vi                       iv            I             V#5-of-IV

- The ending of this verse is harmonically closed, and the climax is muted this time by virtue of a less flamboyant melodic line and the way that the peak occurs one measure earlier than where it appeared in the initial verse. Contrast how variant#1 sounds as though it ends in measure 12 with measure 13 functioning like a transitional filler. In contrast, the climax in the initial verse runs right into the final measure of that section.

- In measure 11, John's much favored minor iv chord (i.e., the one borrowed, as it were, from the parallel minor key of e) is substituted for the naturally occuring Major IV chord we saw in the same measure of the initial verse.

- Also note how the E chord, which always has the *potential* energy to serve as a "V of IV", is nudged into this role here by the augmented alteration of the chord in the final measure of this verse.

Bridge - "I can't believe ..."

- Typical bridge-like contrast is provided here by the use of simpler chords, a balanced eight-measure length (they don't call 'em "middle eights" for nothing!), and a convergent harmonic shape for each of the two phrases, starting away from the I, but moving toward it:

        |A          |B          |E          |E aug.         |
         IV          V           I           V#5-of-IV

                                      "mi-ser- y"
         m.5    rhythmic emphasis: 1 & 2     1 *2*   3  4
        |A          |B          |E          |   B,   E7 f#7 |
         IV          V           I              V

- The rhythm guitar triplets in measures 1 and 5 provide rhythmic continuity with the verses even while the abrupt syncopations in measure 7 and 8 enhance the sense of contrast.

Verse (variant#2) - "Ask me why ..."

- This refrain-like precis of the other verses makes the first of its three appearances relatively late in the song, not until after the first bridge. It's not only much shorter than the other verses, but offers a very different dramatic gesture from them; in place of the earlier climaxing, we get a chance to power down a bit here. This change is brought about by the relatively flat melodic shape used in this section as well as the reliance on "weak" chord progressions, such as stepwise chord streams and the plagal IV-I cadence:

            m.1                                                    (next verse)
      E7  f#7|g#7       |A       |g#7       |A7       |E       |-    ,E7 f#7|

  E:  I   ii  iii        IV       iii        IV        I

- The fact that this section is closed harmonically makes for a slight and uncharacteristically inelegant move when the next section (a repeat of the initial verse) begins.

- When variant#2 returns for a second time, the last measure is modified to contain the E augmented chord. This is a clever move in that it creates a smooth lead-in to the second bridge without them having to repeat the entirety of variant#1, which at this stage of the song would have been a tactical mistake, making it start to drag.


- The outro turns out to be yet another iteration of verse variant#2, modified and extended this time to accomodate the triple repeat of the final lyrical fragment ("you-ou-ou").

- The harmony gently fluctuates toward final quiesence on an extremely unsual voicing of an enigmatic sounding I9/7 chord; with B as the lowest note in the bass, and possibly all other notes of the chord present *except* for the root!

      E7  f#7|g#7       |A       |g#7       |A7       |E       |

  E:  I   ii  iii        IV       iii        IV        I

        m.5                                ??
         |A7          |E        |A7       |E9        ||
         IV            I         IV        I


- The quaint arrangement and corny backbeat of this song have a nostalgic power of sufficient magnitude to seriously get in the way of an objective assessment of its craft. On some level, the legitimacy of such first impressions is neither to be denied nor argued with.

- Granted, this was a rather fledgling compositional effort of theirs. We know, for example, that they had it in hand at least as early as the June ' 2 EMI audition for George Martin and as such, it's very easy to be condescending about it. But I'd dare to suggest that our analysis above clearly demonstrates that the music here is nowhere nearly as derivative as it may seem at first glance.

Alan ( *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)

"Mind you, I stood up for you, I mean I wouldn't have it." 082691#33

Copyright (c) 1991 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved

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